“They set on fire Your Holy Place!” the Psalmist wails. Psalm 74 laments enemies who have left Jerusalem in ruins. The language is similar to Lamentations 2:2-9, which we chant with mournful melody on Tisha B’Av. Jews across history used this Psalm to fervently express their longing for national return.
The precise event that prompted this composition is unstated. Most identify it with the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). Some link it to the Hasmonean Revolt against the Selucid-Greek overlords (167 BCE). As evidence, they point to the repetition of the plea “until when” (verse 9 and 10), as if a long-delayed fulfillment. Although the Psalms were canonized during the Second Temple period, it is unlikely that this Psalm deals with the Maccabees for it describes the Sanctuary as physically razed. Nonetheless, in celebration of Hanukkah, this Psalm is a reminder of the depth of the attachment to the Holy Temple; a longing so dear that it would enable the modern State of Israel after 2,000 years of dispersion.